Friday, January 12, 2018

Bike Shops Can Still Piss Me Off

My daughter goes to physical therapy every other week to help with her walking.  Grand scale, it's not a big deal.  I only bring it up to explain how I came to be fixing this beast:

It's a Kettler trike with hand cycle.  When we started PT months ago, it was already "broken." The hand cycle would turn, but for unknown reasons, wasn't turning the wheel.  I didn't find out about the issue until a few weeks ago, when my daughter climbed on and tried to escape (be still my heart).  She could turn the hand crank, but nothing was happening.  I asked the physical therapist what was going on.  She told me it was broken and that she'd taken it to every shop in town (we have five), but every one told her they couldn't fix it.  One gave a lame excuse that "they couldn't get parts for it."  That shop had not actually done any disassembly or diagnosing.  I haven't spoken to any of the shops, but having worked in "normal" shops for a loooong time, I'm pretty sure I know what happened.  They saw a non-standard machine, knew it could be an ugly can of worms, decided they were unlikely to make any money on it and/or just didn't want to deal with the hassle, and bailed.  "Can't fix it, can't get parts for it, sorry for your bad luck."

I get it.  I understand the harsh economics of brick and mortar retail in general, and bike shops in particular.  If you can't make money, you can't stay in business, and many are not doing either.


So I told the PT that I'd been a mechanic for a long time and I'd be happy to take a look at it.  As I've often mentioned, I'm losing the grease under my fingernails and that makes me sad.  It seemed like a good project to exercise my mechanical brain a little, so I brought it home, and started digging in.

Giving the shops the benefit of the doubt, the first real obstacle I encountered was a non-threaded crank arm.  You see that, you wonder how it's gonna come off.  Prior to Campy Powertorque, it would've been even more confusing, because virtually all crankarms were threaded.  However, any mechanic worth his salt, especially one who's dealt with Campy, should know that pullers exist for all kinds of things without threads.  Luckily, my dad was a Snap-on dealer forever, and I knew he'd have something in the garage.  He did:

After getting the crank off, removing the chain guard was easy, and then it was even easier to see what the issue was.  The chain was loose, and because it hangs vertically, it wasn't engaging the teeth on the bottom sprocket.  The only tensioner is the upper jockey wheel, and it's only got about 1/2" of diagonal movement, which really doesn't amount to a lot of tension adjustment.

I guessed, probably correctly, that removing a whole link would be too much - even with the tensioning pulley backed off as much as possible, the chain would be too tight.  What to do, what to do...?

Luckily, I've been a misguided singlespeeder for a while now, and in the interest of getting my Leftiachi all tukt and shit, I usually have a half link lurking in a bin somewhere.  Bingo.  Full link out, half link in, master link back in, and the chain is tensioned perfectly:

So why does this make me angry at bike shops?  Let me enumerate the ways:

  1. All told, the fix took me probably 20 minutes.  It was really, really easy
  2. It seems the shops didn't even bother to try to figure it out.  If they had, they should've realized what an easy fix this would be.
  3. And that means they missed an opportunity.  At my old shop, the rate was $60/hour, and that was 10 years ago.  A shop that could've fixed this in the same amount of time as a washed-up old mechanic could've easily made money on this.  The PT office would've been paying, and while I'm not suggesting any shop pad their hours, you could've charged them 60 bucks and they wouldn't have batted an eye.
  4. They also missed the chance to become the shop for the PT's office.  That place has a whole room full of bikes.  They're all "weird," but they're all simple.  You get a PT's office bringing you bikes, and you've got a cash cow, not to mention the chance to work on something out of the ordinary every once in a while.  Maybe you don't want to take this on in June, when every fred wants his bike yesterday, but what else are you doing this time of year?  Let your mechanics dig into shit like this.  You're not gonna lose any more money that you would be otherwise and they get to stretch their brains.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

On Suspension

The bike blog world is all atwitter recently with discussion of suspension vs. rigid bikes.  Before we go any further at all, can we all just take a moment to appreciate what it says about the bike industry that this is still a discussion that people care to have.  I mean, bloody hell, the RockShox RS-1 is pretty well agreed upon as being the first "real" suspension fork (yes, there were others before; no, nobody bought or rode them in meaningful numbers).  It came out in '91 or '92.

We've been wasting each other's time with this asinine bullshit for a quarter fucking century.  Anyway, Bike Snob got the discussion started with his article, then PinkBike had to stick their nose into it, and since Prolly can't be left out of any asinine, bike-related discussion, he recently posted his $0.02.  Again, before we go any further, let me reiterate what all these fine writers have already said about each other: these are well-written, often funny, thoughtful pieces and all are worth your time if you haven't read them already.  I really do respect these guys, but I think they all missed something.

Ok, now that we have that out of the way, let's move on to establishing my credibility:  this is the internet and I have a blog, so I'm an expert.  Ha!  That's a joke!  Except it's not really funny.  I started riding a real mountain bike in '97 or '98.  I started rigid, then bought a bike with a suspension fork, then eventually rode a lot of full sus bikes.  Along the way, I've ridden a shit ton of trials on a variety of rigid bikes, road bikes, a little time on a cyclocross bike but never actually riding cross, and I now spend most of my time riding either a Surly Straggler with the stock 41c Knards or my El Mariachi 29er with a Lefty fork on it.  I ride the Straggler as intended - lots of gravel and pavement with a healthy amount of midwest singletrack as well.  I ride the El Mar on what passes for mountain bike trails in southern MN.  My point is, I've ridden all sorts of bikes on all sorts of terrain for quite a while.

The problem with this discussion, and the big something that all the other bloggers missed, is that it's bickering about opinions.  We may as well sit around and yell at each other about which is the best color (btw, it's OD green).  When this little essay is complete, the bottom line will be: ride what you like for the terrain you ride most often.

That said, let's see if we can actually weed out some factual kernels from all the bullshit chaff:

All else being equal (same components, same rider, same trail, etc), the following are all true:

  1. A rigid bike will be lighter.
  2. A rigid bike will require less maintenance OR,
  3. A rigid bike will be quieter.
  4. Over the same rough terrain, a sus bike will be faster.
  5. Rigid bikes will make you a better bike handler.
  6. Rigid bikes are cheaper.
I can already hear you armchair pundits out there sputter, "BUBUBUBUT WAIT!  I have all these friends on full sus bikes and I ride rigid and I kick their asses!"  Reread the caveat above.  If all else is equal, the statements above are fact.  Let's talk about them.

1.  Even the simplest suspension requires stronger, more intricate frame components than a rigid bike.  Even a soft tail without any pivots requires a spring of some kind, most likely a shock with an actual damper, and either special materials or processes to join the parts.  A rigid bike is just tubing, most likely welded together.  There is literally nothing you can do to make that lighter.  Jeebus knows bike companies keep trying.  Fact: all else being equal, a rigid bike is lighter.

2.  Less maintenance/noise.  Most suspension bikes have at least one, and as many as six pivots (special prize to the reader who can name the current bike with the most pivots).  At each pivot, there will be two bushings or bearings (let's not talk about Yeti's weird slider thingies right now), all of which are press fit into precision-machined areas of the frame or linkage.  While bike companies are pretty good, they aren't aerospace, so tolerances can and do vary, which means lots of microscopic cracks for dirt and moisture to infiltrate.  Squish dirt between two hard pieces of metal, you get a creak.  If you want your full sus bike to be quiet, you'll be pulling and replacing bearings at least annually.  Realistically, you'll learn to live with creaks, because replacing bearings is time consuming and if you don't know what you're doing, you risk damaging your frame.  So, your full sus bike is going to creak.  Forks don't make as much noise, but seeing as how a rigid fork requires zero maintenance, it's still a fact that a sus fork will take more.  

4.  Sus bikes are faster.  I'm sure this is the one that caused all you mustachioed, flat-brimmed, dude bros to spit take your DIPAs and espressos.  While no longer as common a misconception, there are still too many people who think suspension is for comfort.  It's not and never has been, except for the suspension seatpost on your mom's Trek 7100.  Suspension is there to maintain traction, i.e. it exists to keep your tires in contact with the ground as much as possible.  Since the only force propelling you forward on flat ground or while going up hills is the rear wheel, the more that rear wheel maintains traction, the faster you'll be.  Going downhill, more traction gives you greater control, which makes you faster.  Finally, suspension is forgiving, which leads into...

5.  Rigid makes you a better bike handler.  Compared to your arms, legs, back, and neck, your rigid bike is relatively immovable.  You hit a six-inch rock, your handlebars move six inches.  You absorb that with your body.  Repeat that hundreds or thousands of times over the course of a ride, and it wears you the fuck out.  Most people don't like to be beaten like that, so if you ride rigid, you learn to pick your way around rocks.  Do that enough, and without any thought at all, you'll find yourself picking the smoothest lines.  Know what picking smooth lines is called?  Good bike handling.  If you're lucky enough to own both rigid and full sus, do yourself a favor and ride your favorite trail a half dozen times on your rigid bike and then switch to sus.  You'll feel like goddamned Superman.  And in support of my statement that full sus is forgiving, you'll find yourself going too fast at times, and you'll miss the line you know to be smoothest, and it won't matter when you hit that baby head because the suspension just takes care of it for you.

6.  Rigid is cheaper.  This one is pretty simple.  A rigid frame and fork are pretty simple.  Simple is cheap.  Again, all things being equal, no matter how simple the suspension, it will be more expensive than a pile of tubes that are welded together.

So that's it.  Everything else is opinion, although I will say I welcome well-reasoned arguments from anybody.  Does anybody still read this piece of shit?  That's what I thought and I don't hardly blame you.  So, you do you, and if you're lucky enough that you can afford more than one bike, make one rigid.  It'll make you a better rider.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

I'm Losing It

On September 24th, my daughter will turn 2.  That will also mark my two-year anniversary of exiting the bike industry.  I have nothing but gratitude that I get to be a stay-at-home dad.  It's a privilege, and I try very hard not to take it for granted.  And while it took longer than expected to get used to my change in identity, I'm now more confident, comfortable, and proud telling people I'm a SAHD.  I have a wonderful life.

Still, a lot happens in two years in a tech-driven industry.

The last time I interviewed for a job in the bike industry, it was to be a part-time wrench at a shop in Boston five or so years ago.  When I spoke to the service manager, I told him the following skills by way of establishing my expertise: I could build wheels, rebuild an Ergolever, overhaul Campy, Shimano, Zipp, and Mavic hubs (among a few less notable others), face and chase the important surfaces on a frame, and glue tubulars.  At the time, it was a modestly impressive if impromptu resume; some of those skills are still important.

But you pro wrenches out there will note so many glaringly outdated skills.  Most shops can't make money building wheels, and distributors do a damn good job building inexpensive wheels, so who gives a shit if I can build a wheel?  Nobody rides Campy long enough to wear out an Ergolever anymore.  Everything is press fit and carbon these days, so prepping a frame to build is no longer needed.  My experience with electronic shifting was a test ride in a parking lot.  Boost didn't yet exist.

These days, I might just as well walk into an autobody place and tell the guy I can tune a carb.

At this point, I'm in danger of getting so far behind that to catch back up will never be worth it.  I dream of getting back to wrenching part time, but Baby Two is due in November, which means that's unlikely to happen for at least a couple more years.  If I haven't kept up some technical expertise in that time, I won't be worth much to a good shop, even if they're just paying me minimum wage.  This makes me really, really sad.  Who is Angry Bike Wrench if he doesn't now how to wrench?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Dad Biking

The Baby was born about 11 months ago.  Before Baby (BB), I was fit, moderately successful and connected in the bike industry, and rode my bike pretty much daily, even if a ride was to grab eggs at the grocery store down the street.  After Baby (AB), I'm lucky to ride my bike weekly, and the ride is still often to grab eggs.  I've gained eight pounds.  Hills that I used to breeze I now struggle up.  Technical sections I used to clean I often dab.  I love my daughter and my life, but fuck...

I went for a ride the other day, a real ride, on my Surly Stragggler, on real trails with rocks and turns.  The trail in question is an odd one.  It's singletrack and the loop is around six miles long, but it's crammed into an area about the size of a couple football fields.  It's nothing but turns, and you're often only a few feet away from the trail as the crow flies, even if that section is a mile or two away by trail.  The hills are super short and often brutally steep.  In short, it's the opposite of a flow trail.  But, I can ride to it in less than 10 minutes and do a lap and still get home in about an hour.  It's fun, especially if you only get to ride it once a month.

So I do this ride, and it hurts.  I'm so out of shape.  But I still manage to make it up all the hills I used to ride up, albeit a hell of a lot slower, and it feels fantastic.  On the ride home, I think a lot about why this ride seemed to mean so much more than it should've.  I think it's because when The Baby was born, my identity fundamentally changed overnight.  I went from being a semi-successful and respected member of the bike industry to being a stay-at-home-dad who didn't know shit about shit.  The ride connected me back to the old me, convinced me he was still in there somewhere.  I don't want to lose the old me, even if the new me is also pretty rad.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Intro to The Fugly Stump Project

Oh, hey.  Yeah, I'm still alive, just spending more time changing diapers than brake pads these days.  As far as my "official bike industry status," I'm out.  Right now, for the first time since I was 16, I am in no way officially or professionally associated with the Bike Industry.  It's weird.

But you don't really give a shit about that, you want to hear about the FUGLY STUMPJUMPER.  Back story: an old colleague, let's call him Bob, is a vintage MTB guy with lots of connections, and he loves to wheel and deal.  I've long been pondering a vintage MTB project along the lines of a big BMX restomod - take an old Zaskar, Stumpjumper, Homegrown, etc. frame and put some cruiser bars on it, one fucking speed, and some big ol' fatty slicks and use it to bounce off the curbs on the way to and from the bar.  He knew about this daydream of mine and found himself in a situation wherein, in order to buy the really nice Stump he wanted, he also needed to buy a really ugly Stump frameset that nobody in their right mind would want.  But he knew about my daydream...

Fast forward a while, and he shows me this thing:

Somewhere under that marbletastic truck bed liner is an early 80s Stumpjumper.  I'd like to learn how to nail the year down, so you if you know your early Stumps, or know somebody who does, let me know in the comments.

I'm nearly finished with phase one of the project - I just want to swap the tires out for something even fatter, and it'll be finished for now.  Future phases will include all of the following:
  • Doing something with the finish.  A relief carving of the name on the down tube?  Maybe.  Just strip the lugs so they can shine through?  Maybe.  Despite its ugliness, somebody put a shit ton of time into this finish, and I want to respect that while making it my own.  Plus, it looks awesome.  In its own fugly way.
  • Gears?
  • Drop bars?  The geo on this thing would make for a pretty fine off-road touring rig.
Anyway, more pics to follow.  Now go ride your bike.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Lottery Bikes

You've got them, I've got them, anybody with an interest in bikes and a pulse has them: lottery bikes.  The bikes we'd put together (or for some sad people, who would pay to have them put together) if money were no object.  They run through our heads constantly, ever changing depending on the weather and the ride we took last.

Today's post was inspired by this post on the Cycle Exif site:  There are a few custom builders out there who are so far ahead of everybody else it's a joke.  I was going to list them off, but since they're going to be on the following list, let's not waste our time.  Below are the bikes I'd order today if money were no object.  Sure, we could drill down into the minutiae of component spec, which spokes I'd use, etc, but that's not what this is about.  This is about the overall intent of the bike, the feel of it, the soul of it.

Bike 1:
Firefly All Rounder Road Bike
Clearance for up to 40-45c tires
2x11 compact drivetrain, probably Shimano
Disc brakes
As close to road geo as possible given the above
This is the bike that I want to be able to take EVERYWHERE, and I like my bikes light, stiff, and responsive.  Think sports car, not a cool old Caddie.

Bike 2
Speedvagen Road Bike
Clearance for up to 28s
2x11 drivetrain, Shimano or Campy
Disc brakes
Agressive, road race geometry.  This is the bike that, when I show up for the Tuesday night ride, says, "hey, you better strap in because I'm bringing it."  Or, it says, "I'm a poser douche but have more money than you."  Either way, it's cool with me.

Bike 3
Pegoretti Marcelo
Campy (duh)
The rest I'd leave up to Dario.  That man is a fucking god, and who am I to tell a god what to do?

That's it for the bikes off the top of my head, but other builders who inspire this kind of daydream, in no particular order: Bishop, Richard Sachs (again, duh), Weigle, ENGLISH, Hampsten...  The list goes on and on and on...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What's Wrong with the Bike Industry

I've been pondering this question for as long as I've been a part of the bike industry, which is to say, for as long as the bike industry has been pissing me off.  It was brought back to the forefront of my consciousness recently, when an acquaintance of mine, Bike Shop Girl, wrote this excellent piece:

Arleigh knows her shit.  She's smart and experienced (which begs us ask why she still plays in the cesspool of the bike industry).  She lays out better than I can a lot of Big Problems with the industry, and her commenters, contrary to the typical trolls, lay out a few others that are important.  But they missed one, and it's particularly important to me.

One of the Big Problems she mentions (along with several of her commenters) is what I'm going to lump together into the category of Not Enough Money. This is an onion problem, with too many layers to count, and plenty of layers I don't know shit about, and I'm sure layers that I don't even know exist, but true to form, I'm going to distill it down anyway.  In the U.S, bikes are toys and as such are valued as toys.  We want them for as cheap as possible, we want to abuse them, we want to throw them away, and we want to replace them as cheaply as possible.  Because of this, the margin on bikes in the U.S. is razor thin and incapable of supporting bike shops (shops in the U.S. would go out of business if all they did was sell bikes; they make their money on parts, accessories, and service).  Because there is so little money to be made, budgets are always tight, and since payroll is almost always a shop's biggest category of overhead, employees are paid as little as possible, usually without benefits.  

So we start with workers who are paid as little as possible.  Most of those employees are bike geeks, and smarter than average when it comes to bikes (this is a generalization based on the anecdotal evidence of the employees with whom I've worked).  There is already an intrinsic interest in and motivation to learn about bikes and bike technology, and indeed, that's a big part of the job.

The problem is, the motivation is intrinsic, which by definition means there is no extrinsic motivator at play.  Unless it's a sales associate getting paid on commission, there is nothing to be gained by knowing more.

So the knowledge itself becomes the currency.

Victory when knowledge is currency is knowing more than the other person, be that an employee or customer.  The knowledge in itself causes no problems, but when your identity is so closely tied to how much you know, it becomes personal, and if your status as "smart" is challenged, you become defensive.  My hypothesis is this is the root cause of the condescending sales person and the grumpy mechanic, both of whom are frequently cited as the biggest problem with brick and mortar bike shops (and rightly so).  

It is why I started this blog.  It is why I so frequently get sucked into the same bullshit, asinine arguments in the comment section on blogs.  Admitting this makes me feel pathetic, but I long ago used up all the fucks I had to give, especially when it came to stroking my ego with my knowledge of spoke tension and my ability to overhaul an Ergolever, both skills that have next to zero value in this day and age.